Women in tech advocating for open source

08 Mar 2024 5 min read

Written by

The XWiki Team

According to Eurostat, the percentage of women working in tech in the EU has increased from 23% before the pandemic to 25% at the end of 2023. However, the increase remains slow, and the gap is very wide. This topic deserves proper awareness, and we strongly believe in being inclusive, and we encourage diversity for all genders to thrive in this industry. With open source being a branch of the tech industry, you might wonder if women are also underrepresented here, as well.

We are bringing forward a couple of testimonials from our fellow female colleagues who have embraced a career in open-source tech. We hope it will shed some light into how things are evolving in this field. And, why not, even inspire those who are seeking guidance for starting a career in tech and wish to combine both computer programming skills with the ethical side of it, namely open-source. 

We asked Andreea, Adina, Mathilde and ╚śtefana to answer some questions meant to reveal their career journeys and share some key takeaways based on their experience with open source. Let's discover their insightful testimonials below.

women in tech lineup.webp

­čÄ» Did you choose open source or did open source choose you?

Adina: Hard to say. It was a conscious choice to work in an open-source company as I felt connected to the mission it has in the world, but at the same time, that feeling of resonating with this philosophy also means that, in a way, open source chose me. The freedom, the transparency, the collaboration… they are all things essential to how humans should build things in the world — not just software, for sure.

Mathilde: Open source chose me! I was in college and just got my first laptop from Aldi, a very cheap one which was running Windows 7 Starter. Everything was super slow, starting, browsing documents, opening office files… It couldn't play 1080p videos. A friend told me about Linux and helped me install Debian with a light desktop environment on it. Then I could finally browse the web without issues, play light video games and use LibreOffice without interface lags.

╚śtefana: Open source chose me, and I am so glad it did! Before joining XWiki I was aware about the open-source concept and used multiple software products and libraries in my projects. However, I was not very knowledgeable on the values around the open-source model, and it was so wonderful and refreshing to see that transparency, honesty, collaboration truly define the way we work in the whole company, not only at the product level.

­čÄü Can you share a particularly rewarding or impactful project you've contributed to within the open-source community, and how it has influenced your career or personal growth?

Adina: I'm still at the beginning of my relationship with open source and apart from exploring UI/UX proposals for the XWiki project, I haven't got the chance to contribute much to other projects. I wish I knew about the advantages of contributing to open source earlier, when I was still in college or, heck, even in high school.

From what other women in open source told me, I've learned that working with the community of open-source projects made their work more transparent, easier to see by hiring managers. It also enabled them to network easier without the disadvantages of real-life networking (in which men sometimes avoid meeting and discussing IRL out of fear of not painting a fake scenario between them). Obviously, this is known by many, but these women's GitHub was lit up like a Christmas tree and this helped a ton in how they were presenting themselves as candidates for high paying positions.

Mathilde: After playing around with Debian and discovering the free and open-source software ecosystems, I wanted to dig a bit more into complex things. Trying software to do programming, but also image, video, music, creative editing, that required more computing resources. I stumbled upon a small community of users who created a very lightweight Debian-based and good-looking Linux distribution, named CrunchBang Linux. I started participating on the community forum and a few years later ended up being the administrator of it, organizing a meetup at my dad's place one summer. It had a huge impact on my future career because it made me understand I didn't need diplomas to be good at something very technical and succeed.

­čîŐ What is it like to work at XWiki?

Andreea: From my 6+ years at XWiki, it feels like you're valued. I continue to experience that our contribution to either the development of the product or to the services that bring you in direct connection with product users matters.

Adina: There are interesting things happening every day, and you always have the possibility of extending your knowledge in any direction you want.

I'm the kind of person that gets bored easily if I'm not evolving constantly, and the work at XWiki always kept me engaged and pretty happy. I'd rate being part of the XWiki team an easy 10/10.

╚śtefana: Better than I could have hoped for. I have been at XWiki for 6.5 years and in all this time I have been respected, valued and offered so much flexibility and compassion. I started as a Project Manager in the Client Team, then I transitioned to Account Manager, doing sales and project management, and finally became the Product Owner of Cloud and Pro Apps. During all of these stages, I was offered the perfect amount of support and trust, I was allowed to try out new things and make mistakes, and eventually focus on what I enjoy most.  

­čîŐ What is it like to work at CryptPad?

Mathilde: Working on CryptPad is amazing. We are a small team of 8 people, with 4 men and 4 women, gender parity! Even while my own experience is a bit different, as I am a transgender person, who came out almost 6 years ago. I feel like my colleagues value my work and experience, it's always nice to work and chat with them, no matter the topic.

­čĺí What's the most valuable advice you would pass on to women who are interested in getting involved in open-source projects but may feel unsure about where to start?

Andreea: Any new beginning brings challenges. What I know is that you will benefit from just taking the leap into a new project: your confidence will grow, your tech skills will develop, you'll see direct effects of your contribution, and you'll also add to your work portfolio. Depending on your area of interest, here are a few sites to get you started:

Adina:

  • Join open-source communities on Reddit and engage with others. You can ask Redditors to recommend projects that are looking for beginner-level contributions and start from there. 
  • You don't necessarily need to code to help projects: UI/UX improvements, branding ideas, identifying accessibility issues, translating, these are all incredibly valuable to projects. 
  • You may not like this, but I'd recommend keeping a neutral gendered username and identity. This tip is more based on statistics than on my own experience, so do your own research on this and create a “personal brand” that will help your career, not slow it down. 
  • You'll find a lot of amazing and warm people in open-source, but business or stress may make some feedback feel slightly cold. Be nice, but not too nice, insist on the ideas that you think are good and well-researched.

Mathilde: I would invite any women interested into being involved into the free and open-source software communities to not hesitate making themselves some room to breathe and pursue their own interests. A lot of people are talking about meritocratic values, but it's often disguised as a way to gate keep access to software that seems to require a very high complex and technical knowledge. However, it's frequently not true. If you lack some ideas, besides work on software functionalities, there are many fields that require attention, some that men don't find as appealing (because not rewarding the same way probably): accessibility, design, community work, quality and testing…

A vast majority of free and open-source software projects lack a lot of investment in those fields. I found it easy for myself to make my own way through multiple communities by working on these.

╚śtefana: There are numerous ways to get started with open source. As a contributor, both as a technical and non-technical person, you can find open-source communities, identify the projects that speak to you most, and contribute in the manner that fits you best. For example, if you are not a Developer, you can bring a very valuable input by testing the product, researching the market, offering support for project management and other operations, contributing to translations and many others. 

You can also meet numerous companies that work on open-source software at dedicated conferences such as FOSDEM or research them on the web. If you identify a company that you resonate with, do not hesitate to get in touch with them and check if they have a position open where you would be a great fit. 

Finally, remain kind but assertive, work with people that respect and value you, and always remember to prioritise your health and well-being.

You may also be interested in:

News

Enhancing digital sovereignty: XWiki and Nextcloud forge closer ties

XWiki SAS has long upheld its commitment to independence, with shareholders exclusively comprising current and former employees. However, recognizing the importance of strong collaboration among major open-source projects in the EU, the company is embracing a strategic shift through a symbolic investment in XWiki SAS from Frank Karlitschek, Founder and CEO of Nextcloud. Moreover, Nextcloud GmbH and XWiki SAS have signed a mutual resellers' agreement to provide their customers an easy way to purchase a complete solution from either vendor. Read the full article to learn about the why, how, and what.